Posted by: Ross Leonhart
By Scott Willoughby
High pressure. That was the operative phrase for the YETI 2 Fly X-Stream casting competition on Day 3 of the 2021 GoPro Mountain Game at Vail.
As the sun beamed down through a Colorado cobalt blue sky, the air temperature edged just north of 90 degrees and the last squeeze of snowmelt runoff made its way down the mountains into the Eagle River, it was evident that the ridge of high pressure had settled in overhead. But even the postcard perfect weather system that most anglers dread couldn’t compare to the pressure looming over the 10 anglers that had made their way to the money round of the headlining fly-fishing event of the GoPro Mountain Games.
“It was stressful, but it was fun,” said Shaun Twomey, a local guide with Vail Valley Anglers who qualified for the YETI Fishing Finals by overwhelming the competition in the YETI Catch Wars event on Day 1 of the Mountain Games. “That’s probably the most stressed out I’ve ever been over the course of two days of fishing.”
The typically leisurely pastime of fishing on the local waterway takes on a new twist when competitors are limited to only six flies and two different patterns, as they are in the YETI 2 Fly Fishing Finals. Throw a top prize of $3,000 for both men and women into the mix, and the heat is definitely on.
Twomey and his boat-mate, competition casting champion Audrey Wilson of Salt Lake City, both managed to lose three of their six respective flies in the first of their two 2-hour laps down the Eagle, limiting both anglers to three flies apiece during the afternoon float, just when the fishing was really turning on.
“It was fun. It was fast, and there were a couple of snafu-ies, but it was exciting for sure. A reel fell off and my rod came apart, but I got it all back together,” said Wilson, who backed up her 2019 overall win in the YETI 2 Fly X-Stream Finals with a 7-fish, 21-point win in the women’s division on Saturday. “It’s a really fun river, but I finished with only one fly, so you really had to be on the ball.”
Men’s champion Troy Garner of Aurora, Colorado, used his preferred Euro-nymping technique to land an impressive 24 fish, one choice trout measuring 16 inches for a length bonus of 16 points, and a total score of 40 points. He was followed by local angler Andrew “Otter” Smith with 21 fish in hand and the day’s biggest fish measuring 17.5 inches (good for an additional $500 cash) for a second-place score of 38.5 points ($1,500). Third place and $500 went to Chilean-born Marcelo Caiozzi of Denver with 16 fish in hand and 32.5 total points. Kristen Sorensen and Skylar Hertzfeld rounded out the women’s podium, with 16 points and 2 points, respectively.
To be fair though, some of the pressure in the YETI Fishing Finals was self-imposed. Or at least it was for fourth-place finisher Twomey, who managed to post an impressive tally of 32 trout in hand over just four hours of fishing. Despite landing more fish than any other competitor, Twomey neglected to measure any of them for the associated scoring bonus (one point per inch), even opting not to measure a fish estimated at 13 inches that he caught with just 4 minutes remaining on the contest timer.
“I was holding out for a bigger one,” he said. “I should have just thrown it in the tray, but I looked at the timer and saw I still had four minutes left and thought, ‘Oh, I can catch a bigger one. I know there’s a bigger one in this hole.’ But we just weren’t in a good position and we didn’t have enough time to get to the next good hole. So that was a dumb mistake.”
Call it a $3,000 gamble, or maybe a calculated risk. Considering that he had boated 32 fish in less than four hours already, technically Twomey was averaging less than four minutes between fish. Without landing another fish to measure, he was essentially wagering he would land at least 13 more fish on the day than the next-closest competitor and perhaps as many as 18, based on the day’s biggest fish measured. Measuring his last 13-inch trout would have bumped his score to 45 points, easily enough to secure victory.
“That’s a risk I was willing to take, apparently,” he said with a chuckle. “But I like to test things, you know? I like to risk it.”
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